17 October 2017

Oh, how very prescient a snark!

To them who cry, “More cowbell!” – Cowbells later.  First, there must be sorrow.
– Porridger’s Almanac (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Six years ago today (17 October 2011), John Rich asked:  “Karl, you composed a ballet right? If yes, has any ballet company been interested in performing the work?”

To which Greg Cook shortly replied, “It’ll take another 7 years for him to finish it.”

Now, we may ask the Oracle if it is mere chance that I am planning to wrap White Nights up in 2018.  Or, we may just assume that Greg is himself the Oracle.

Darn spooky, I calls it.


16 October 2017

“What is your work?”

On the lines of Don’t discredit what is true, because it is a liar who speaks it...

A voice from many years past, a character who was at best neutral, and at worst bête noir, posed the actively fructiferous question, What is your work? It is a question, for the artist, with a wide variety of applications, at several levels.

This passage which is costing you labor to hammer it out right, is this your work? No, the finished piece which is the goal, that is my work.

This apparently irrelevant exercise which is required of you this week, this semester, this class period, is this your work? No, my work is something bigger, longer-lasting.

& cetera. These two immediate examples only scratch the surface. The question will mean more to you, Gentle Reader, as you apply it to your own workdesk.

One problem—one big problem—in the World Out There is the pressure, social, monetary, networkly, for art to be “socially relevant.” As if the Chopin e minor Prélude is insignificant because it addresses an audience of one, the listener in his own study, rather than addressing the problems in the workplace. As if to affirm the old materialistic fallacy that a pair of boots is worth more than Shakespeare.

So when I see tweets asserting (e.g.) that Art is our weapon and Art is a form of resistance, I see that which is too small, which is easy and smooth in its marketability. Click-Bait Art.

I ask the rhetorical question, Is your Art a Being to which you give birth? Or is it instead a mere tool?

What is your work?


15 October 2017

The Never-Happened. The Steady, Reliable Support. And, Towards the Future.

[ from the archive — 15.x.2012]
Not much in the way of news . . .  have I mentioned that the First Church Choir are singing a concert in January, and that at least two bits of Henningmusick will feature on the program? Love Is the Spirit and the Alleluia in D . . . possibly also the Kyrie.
The long-awaited recording of Angular Whimsies may actually be sent to me before year’s end.  Or not.  We shall see.
No news on the flute solo piece which I submitted for the call.  The flutist has posted an apologetic advisory that she will be in touch, eventually.
A tantalizing e-mail message has come in from my old trumpet ace schoolmate;  The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword has not been forgotten . . . .
Or, perhaps it has been.

To poetify one aspect of my regular experience:  The path forward for many artists is paved in part with the rubble of past hopes.  Of all the What may happen in the future items of five years ago today, the only element to reach fruition was the performance of Love Is the Spirit on the January 2013 concert.

Does that sound like a complaint?  It is none, for I am deeply grateful for a fine performance of Love Is the Spirit by the wonderful First Church Choir, who have adopted the motet as one of their signature pieces.

Pictured below is the spire of the Sixth Meeting House of the First Congregational Church in Woburn, the site of the creation of many earlier works in the Henning catalogue.  It was arguably journeyman work—but it gave me the opportunity to practice composition regularly.  Its “importance” is not so much the music which I wrote (much of which is modest in scope and intent), as in the invaluable workshop for an extended period.  This has wound up being yet another occasion to express gratitude to the late William A. Goodwin for years of belief in my work, and sustained material and moral support:  because I cannot say that I could have written my recent Symphony, now, without the artistic preparation which Bill made possible.

Looking to April 2018—two years ago at about this time (the PDF of the last score is dated 18.x.2015) I had begun composing a two-singer scene from The Scottish play.  The occasion for which I was speculating the piece (it occupied the since-repurposed Opus number 138) was a potential concert which either changed, or got canceled entirely.  I may at some point finish the piece in that guise, but I want to embark on another setting of that scene, for two female singers, three winds and fixed media.  Musically, entirely a different tackwhich will indeed mean that, should opportunity arise in future to resuscitate the “Old Op.138,” it will keep.  The new scena will run quite a bit cooler than the Op.129, whose première was so stunningly created by Barbara Hill Meyers, one of the singers for the Op.147 to come.


14 October 2017

A few harmless thoughts on David Cronenberg’s The Fly

There may, or there may not, follow spoilers.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers.  I know how disappointing they can be.  But, although, yes, I shall try, I am making no guarantee.  Because I just may riff.

When Seth Brundle tells Ronnie that something is ‘missing’—that because what he has succeeded in ‘teleporting’ is inanimate matter, but that his efforts are not successful until he can teleport living creatures—of course, he is entirely wrong.  The ability to teleport even inanimate items across space is a huge accomplishment;  think how it would simplify (or might) the postal service.  But, of course, that would not have made the movie.  We might likewise advise Othello, “Hey, what if you just ask her about the handkerchief?”

At last, I watched the whole movie last night.  There’s quite a lot of it that I hadn’t seen before. But (somehow) I had seen all the “shocker” bits ... so that (very much like my later fondness for Ridley Scott’s Alien) I could watch the whole with reasonable equanimity.  Still, it is something of a wringer to watch.  Which is really the power and the art of the undertaking.  It is impartially true that I saw much last night, upon which my gaze never fell earlier.  But I do half wonder if some of what I took as new last night, may have been frames which I had seen before, but as I was still in shock over previous gore, I did not mark the scene at the time.  It is possible.

There are many excellent and understated bits of humor.  (Mostly in the first half-ish of the movie, well, sure.)  “Designer phone booths” is (if by now sufficiently anachronistic that the next generation will probably fail to get the joke entirely) wicked sharp.  Before this, when Ronnie first enters the lab, and Seth sits down at the piano and plays “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” à la energetic lounge pianist (that looks practically like an oxymoron, but let it stand) it is a rarely delicious musical moment in the cinema of our day. (Did Goldblum play it himself, or did he but mime expertly? Wonder if we learn, in the commentary....)

I nearly wrote that the score is surprisingly romantic, but in fact part of the impact of the horror (it is not all merely gross-out scares) is, the romance between Brundle and Ronnie.  I certainly did not know that this was a Howard Shore score, before.


... but I send anyway

You cannot collect the rejection slips, unless you send in your work.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Nothing will come of it.  We know this;  and we do it anyway.  I have sent in the Larghetto (second movement) and Vivo assai (third movement) of the Op.143 to two separate calls for orchestral scores.

Why?

If I think, Nothing will come of it, so it is not worth even bothering, then the thought is bitter in its binding my hands into inaction.

But if I send, even though I think, Nothing will come of it, I affirm that I believe my work worthy of the consideration;  at least in theory, I give an actual person the chance to review the work (and dare him or her to reject it);  and my knowledge that Nothing will come of it inoculates me from the bitterer forms of disappointment.

Nothing will come of it.  We know this.  But I do excellent work.  And someday, it will be recognized for its excellence.


11 October 2017

henningmusick: This morning’s sing [11.x.2009]

henningmusick: This morning’s sing
The composer was very pleased. We sang my Exaltabo Te, Deus (I served as a substitute tenor this morning) when the basket was being passed . . . but it is also a somewhat longer anthem than the choir normally sing for the First Church Boston service. The m.d. told me that the last two minutes of the piece, the congregation had settled nicely into the piece, and their attention was glued. “Magical,” quoth he.
Very well do I remember that morning.  It was the first proper performance of this Psalm setting, which I composed while visiting St Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Penn. It was one of my first efforts at “inhabiting” the soundworld of Russian Orthodox liturgical choral music. In this, I think it was likely a reasonable success.


10 October 2017

After the Avocadoes

A thoroughly enjoyable, and well-attended concert today at King’s Chapel. Carol, Pam & Peter played beautifully, and they all like the music well enough that they stand ready to repeat the program.  Which I plan on doing.

Right at the moment, however, I believe I shall loll on the sands.


09 October 2017

Concert Eve

Excellent dress rehearsal this morning.

No time to blog...off to Triad rehearsal.


08 October 2017

The (Near) Future of Henningmusick. And, an Anniversary.

Tue 10 Oct at King’s Chapel, Boston:

Tiny Wild Avocadoes (selections), Op.125a (2016) — première
Neither do I condemn thee, Op.132 (2015)
Kurosawa’s Scarecrow (Memories of Packanack Lake), Op.145 (2017) — première

The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble
Carol Epple & Peter H. Bloom, flutes
Pamela Marshall, horn
Karl Henning, clarinet & fixed media

Sun 22 Oct at St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Del Rey Beach, Fla.:

The St Paul’s Choir (Dr Paul Cienniwa, Dir.) sing
Precious Lord, Op.139 № 4 (2016)

Sun 22 Oct at Holy Trinity United Methodist Church, Danvers, Mass.:

The Chancel Choir sing
I Want Jesus to Walk With Me, Op.142 № 9 (2017)

Tue 24 Oct at Stonehill College, Easton, Mass.:

Ensemble Aubade
Oxygen Footprint, Op.138 (2016)

henningmusick: Symphony beginning:
In the perhaps optimistic expectation that life will carry on 9 November and beyond, I have started work on Symphony № 1.
There are layers of optimism here . . . starting a large piece, and hoping to bring it to its completion . . . starting it, with the apparent implication of a № 2 . . . writing a large piece, not knowing if or where it might be brought to an audience . . . &c. &c. &c.
But, over the past couple of days, a musical idea has taken root in my inner ear, and its only practical application is, for orchestra.

One year ago today, after years of kinda thinking “I want to write a symphony” (and, more than one, really), something mysterious-but-crucial clicked, and (a) I felt absolutely ready to write such a piece, and (b) the Symphony was exactly the piece I wanted to write just then.

At the milestone of just one year after the initial conception of the piece, it is utterly premature to “complain” that the piece has not been played yet.

But, yes, I am eager to seek a performance, this I do not deny.

Most importantly to the composer, he is well pleased with the piece, and looks with pride on the fact that this musical achievement looms large in the previous twelve months of musical activity.


07 October 2017

Just when I did not quite mean to

[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition, nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends. His only competition was with himself.
— Françoise Gilot
For reasons which I have shared on this blog before—principally, because I desire to finish White Nights first—I am not, not going to set to actual work on it.  Yet.

Nor let me mislead you, Gentle Reader, into taking this in any way as a lament, in even the least degree.  Because my Muse is there, assuring me that there is work to be done;  and this is the unalloyed Good Thing.

Directly after I have my choir and handbell ringers settled with Christmas concert material, and when I shall at last have wrapped up the ballet, I find that I already have a plan for the Symphony № 2.
  • The first movement to be a Prelude for the brass
  • The second movement to be the Sonata-Allegro (of some sort or other)
  • The third movement to be a Scherzo for the strings
  • The fourth movement to an Adagio
  • The fifth movement to be an Intermezzo for the woodwind
  • And a dashing final, sixth movement
My feeling at present is to aim technically, again, at “a good community orchestra”;   to score it as I did the first, only with the addition of harp (and, I expect, with a different, specific percussion complement);  and for the whole to run (say) 35 minutes.

I do, in fact, have a specific idea for the opening movement.  Whether I wind up using it or not, I should scribble it down for future reference.  But that memorandum aside, I am not working on this Symphony.  Yet.


05 October 2017

About ye Music on Tuesday’s Program

NOTES (Packanack Lake not pictured)

Tiny Wild Avocadoes :: These are originally scored for a trio of two violins and viola.  I composed them for conductor/pianist/violinist/teacher John McLaughlin Williams, as teaching pieces (to develop ensemble, rhythmic accuracy, &c.)  Each piece is designed to cover two pages, and all three players play from the score – hence the pieces’ brevity.  John and two friends premièred the first and second of the Avocadoes, shortly after their composition, on 12 Nov 2014 at St Clare’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Last year-ish, I felt that the pieces would work equally well for a trio of winds, and thus we bring these exotic fruits today.  Psychologists and Bio-ethicists have dedicated a great many, and very expensive, man-hours to the question of their nature, but there is no doubt that these are no avuncular Avocadoes.

Neither do I condemn thee :: This was an oblique commission (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Flutist/conductor/cuatroista Orlando Cela sent me a message one day, When are you going to write me a piece?  “Flute-plus-what, and of what duration?,” I queried back;  and the result was this present flute duo.  The title comes from an incident from the Gospel.  Not to retell it in detail, its essential meaning is:  Never worry about anything wrong you have done;  but instead, find someone whose behavior you find especially offensive, get a mob together, and punish the bejeezus out of the offender.  Afterwards, bask all together in a self-righteous glow.  There is a school of thought which wonders if this may be an inaccurate reading of the Gospel, but few Evangelical public figures take that dissenting view at all seriously.

Kurosawa’s Scarecrow (Memories of Packanack Lake:: In the parlance of our times, It’s complicated.  Phase I was a piece for the church handbell choir which I direct.  I puttered with a rehearsal take of this for Phase II, which is the fixed media in the present piece:  octave displacements, superimpositions, rhythmic augmentations and diminutions of the “raw material” of the handbell choir recording, to which I added gestures which I played on (or breathed through) a dime-store plastic recorder, sounds which (when I slowed them down electronically) sounded delightfully – to my ears – as a “poor man’s shakuhachi.”  Also added, some laryngeal sounds similarly ‘treated’ so as to sound like an exotic field recording.  Phase III, the final piece (although, to be honest, I believe that Phase II constitutes a final piece in its own right) incorporates phrases played live by the quartet of winds.  Differing in some ways from my previous live-instruments-plus-fixed-media works, this piece thus has two defined elements (the fixed media, and the composed-out wind phrases), but the interaction between the two is indefinite, a result of chance (or, perhaps, the clarinetist’s whimsy).


04 October 2017

Stranger [thoughts on the final movement of the Cl Sonata]

[ a scrap of paper from 7 June 2017, rediscovered today ]

 

My speed-re-reading of “The Mysterious Stranger” taped the movement out for me.  The novella is set in a sleepy German town, but – Twilight-Zone-like – I take it as standing in for Hannibal, MO . . . Twain’s point is not criticizing mediæval Germans.

So the opening Larghetto (soon to accelerate to Andante) is Home, Americana, and it is the boys’ simple faith and outlook thrown somewhat off-balance by the fact, the character, the unexpected contradictions, the occasionally stern reproaches of Satan.  The central Vivace assai will reflect the central dramatic crisis of the trial, and Satan’s essentially untamable nature, even when he is ‘helpful’ (as when he promises that Fr Peter will be happy the rest of his life).  Then, a brief (comparatively) return to the Americana material, further colored by the Stranger, as when Theodor learns that life is a grotesque and foolish dream, and one doubts that he despairs of the revelation, but embraces it quietly.

Because the start is so slow, this first sally materialized quickly.  This morning, I found the tune I had composed (a month ago?), and I harmonized it while riding the Red Line into town.  (I am glad I found it!  I do like it, and feel that it fits in very nicely.)  I have an Arlington Philharmonic rehearsal tonight, but it begins late enough that there is a good chance I can bring the Sibelius file up to date before I report for percussion duty.

St Paul’s, Ten Years Ago

From the Archive :: 4 Oct 2007

Bless the Lord, O my soul is on for this Sunday, 7 October.

Nuhro has been bumped [a] week, from 4 November to 11 November.

And if Pete [Lekx] takes to the piece, we may add 
Steve Hicken’s The Rings of Saturn to our 5 December recital program.

Pete & I later refreshed The Mousetrap for an exclusive audience of student composers at the College of Wooster.

Last night I arranged Louis Bourgeois’ Rendez à Dieu for our doughty handbell choir at HTUMC.  And there is a hymn which (lacking our organist because her car was put out of commission by vandalism) we deselected this past Sunday, as it was too unfamiliar to us;  but it is a beautiful tune, and I am contemplating arrangements for both the choir, and the handbells.  Maybe together.

On that theme, I may re-arrange My Lord, What a Morning for the handbells & choir.


03 October 2017

henningmusick: The adventure begins [3.x.2013]

henningmusick: The adventure begins



And so, today marks the fourth anniversary of my first rehearsal as M.D. at H.T.U.M.C.


It’s all been going delightfully, and long may it so continue. (Next rehearsal is the day after tomorrow.)


Excellent Triad rehearsal last night. It was the first we had all six men for to rehearse The Dying Californian, and the piece is in good shape. I had prepared a series of 4:3 rhythmic drills for strengthening ensemble confidence in the Salve; but last night was a by for that piece, and probably a week’s rest was a good idea.


Henningmusick rehearsal tomorrow evening—our King’s Chapel concert is a week from today.


What to do tonight? A couple of handbell pieces, I should think. Rehearsal of the handbell choir starts this Sunday. Must have music marked and in the folders.


02 October 2017

What's up

Eleventh-hour Plan B for a service;  taping out exercises to build rhythmic confidence in the ensemble for the 4:3 ratio;  refreshing my frame-drum-beating-while-singing skillz;  planning the choir’s anthems for the month of November;  resigning myself to a slightly smaller handbell choir;  and always, looking ahead to the Christmas concert.

Oh, and Henningmusick rehearsals Wednesday and Monday for the King’s Chapel concert on 10 Oct.